Saturday, March 22, 2008

CVS Deals for the week of 3-16 to 3-22

It was a pretty good week for me at CVS even though I'm frustrated about not being able to find ANY store in my area with the vitamins, toothpaste, or razors on the shelves. I think maybe they stock the shelves at the first of the month and then never stock them again. But that's a discussion for another day.

The first picture above includes diapers, diaper cream, 5 Johnson's Buddies Easy Grip Soap, 5 mouth washes, toothpaste, 3 deodorants, and 6 bottles of shampoo. The second picture is 2 boxes of Hershey's Pot Of Gold candy, 2 bags of jelly beans, 2 packages of large plastic eggs, 3 chocolate bunnies, and 4 Russell Stover Cream Eggs.

Cost before coupons -- $75.05
Coupons & Extra Care Bucks -- $68.10
Out of pocket cost -- $6.95
Extra Bucks issued for future use -- $25.94

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

IRS Rebate Checks

Without getting into whether or not I think these checks are a good idea or whether they scream "socialism"............ here's some information for you on whether you are getting a check, how much it will be, and when you can expect to receive it.

First, go to the IRS website's calculator and input some numbers from your 2007 tax forms. This will calculate the amount of your tax rebate.

Next, go to the IRS Payment Schedule to see when you can expect your check. If you requested direct deposit for your 2007 tax refund you will receive this money electronically, too. If you owed money to the IRS but still gave them account information for direct deposit "just in case" you should receive the rebate in that bank account. Otherwise you will receive your check in the mail.

There is a section here for frequently asked questions in case you need more information.

Lastly, please please please! If you have high-interest credit card debt give some serious thought to using this money to pay that down or pay it off. And most importantly -- DON'T SPEND THE MONEY BEFORE IT ARRIVES! Don't go out and charge that big screen TV with surround sound knowing that you will be able to pay the bill when the check arrives. That's just begging Murphy (of "Murphy's law fame) to move into your guest bedroom.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cheap Veggie Tales

Check this out! You can get a Veggie Tales DVD for just the cost of shipping. Go here and see the ones that are on sale for less than $10. Then use coupon code WIZ to get $10 off your order. I got "An Easter Carol" for only $3.63 shipped. Thanks to Mir at Want Not for this info!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Savings on cereal

I was able to get in on the deals at Albertson's last week (sale actually ends today but I'm out of coupons now!). For every $10 you spent on certain products you got $2 off automatically at the register. Included in this list was several types of Post cereal. So I was able to get 9 boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats and 2 boxes of Honeycomb cereal for a total of $3 out of pocket!

It took me two trips to Albertson's because the first store didn't have enough boxes available for me to use all my coupons. But it was worth it since the stores are fairly close to my house and I was already passing by them on other errands.

My kids are thrilled! They love Honey Bunches of Oats but don't get it very often because it's expensive. And I don't think they've ever had Honeycomb cereal. That will certainly be a treat for them!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Apparently it stinks to be two years old

So Olivia was playing with Rebecca's purse and I suggested to Rebecca that she might not want to let Olivia do that considering Olivia is likely to dump all the money out of it and probably tear it up into pieces. So Rebecca took it away and Olivia cried.

Olivia : "Where's my purse?"
Me: "You don't have a purse with money like Rebecca because Rebecca is 6 and you're 2."
Olivia : (Screaming at me in her best 2-year-old-defiant voice) "I'm not 2!"
Me: "Yes, you are. I know -- I was there when you were born."
Olivia: "No!! I'm not 2! You're 2!!"

So instead of turning 35 last week, I guess I turned 2. Or at least I did in her little world.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Short Term Financial Goals

Do you have any short term goals for your finances? I'm not one to make New Years Resolutions so I don't say things like "I'm going to get out of debt this year" or "I'm going to cut my grocery budget this year". I do, however, make small financial goals from time to time. Those big ones that so many people make at New Years are just too broad for me -- I need to be more specific.

Since we are following Dave Ramsey's baby steps, I use those as a guideline. Late last year we were ready to move to step 5 -- invest 15% of your income into retirement. It took me a few months of procrastinating before I finally did it. I contacted one of the Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) found on Dave's website and talked with him about opening a ROTH IRA for my husband. We had been setting some money aside each month while we researched our investment options and in November we wrote a check for the initial investment. Then we set up an automatic draft every month for 8% of our income so that we wouldn't have an excuse to not follow through. We only did 8% because we are already investing 7% of his paychecks in his retirement through work.

The next step on Dave's list is number 6 -- pay off your mortgage early. I would LOVE to be able to do this in 7-8 years but that's unrealistic. Well, I could do it if we stopped putting money into all our various savings accounts each paycheck but then we wouldn't have that money available to use for those different categories. (I use savings accounts as a sort of "envelope system" and will write about that later today or tomorrow.) If we suspended all that savings each month and put the money on our mortgage instead we would be able to pay it off in about 8 years. So my goal last month was to figure out how much extra I could realistically put on the mortgage. That's a really tough question! My husband works for a local municipality that gives merit raises every year on the anniversary of your hire date. For him that's sometime in December. So what we did this year was take the difference between his paycheck in November and his paycheck in January and pledge to send the that amount to the mortgage company as an extra principle payment. That's only about $65 a month because we had an increase in our dental insurance costs this year starting in January that offset much of his raise. But it's better than nothing! Each month I already have the mortgage payment set up as an automatic draft from our checking account. The day after that payment goes through I go to the website and manually make an extra principle payment of $65. There's no charge for this as long as I do it within 10 days of the due date.

We would love to commit to putting all extra windfalls on our mortgage but we can't seem to bring ourselves to do that right now. There are always other things we'd rather do with the money, like buy a new sofa or pay for music classes for the kids. We just signed a gas lease for our mineral rights and got a bonus check. It's sitting in the bank earning interest right now instead of being sent to the mortgage company. I need to really evaluate these sorts of windfalls for the future, though. I know that my parents we able to pay off their mortgage early through windfalls like that. Those are some thoughts for another day.

Like I said, our goals are small right now but we're making progress and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Are all lenders inherently predatory?

There was an article in the Dallas Morning News yesterday about how Mesquite, Texas (a suburb of Dallas) is limiting where check-cashing businesses and payday lenders may open shop. The city's argument is that "they hurt economic development in areas where too many of them cluster." I can't blame the city for making this decision -- have you ever driven through a neighborhood where there are lots of these types of businesses? More often than not it's a blighted area of town where other businesses don't want to open because it doesn't appear to be "economically viable".

This got me thinking, though. It's hard to argue that payday loan businesses and check cashing businesses that charge such huge interest rates aren't inherently predatory. In days past these types of businesses were called "loan sharks" and were illegal. Now they operate out in the open in our strip malls with no fear of arrest and prosecution. In a way, many credit card companies are no different. They often charge exorbitant fees and high interest rates. Take a look at your credit card contract and you'll see what I'm talking about. There are fees for making a late payment. There are annual fees for the "privledge" of using the credit card in the first place. There is "universal default" where the credit card company retains the right to raise your interest rate if you are late on ANY other credit obligation even if you have never been late on that card. There is an "over limit" fee for when you go beyond your limit.

WHAT? How do you go beyond your spending limit? Isn't a "limit" defined as a maximum allowed? Whatever happened to charges being denied because it would put you over the limit? Well, apparently credit card companies have found that their customers would rather pay an over the limit fee than be embarrassed at the point of sale by having their purchases declined.
Then it starts to snowball on you -- you pay the fee every single month that your balance is over the limit. If you are making only minimum payments it's very likely that the payment won't be enough to cover the interest and that fee; therefore you will still be over the limit, especially if you continue to charge on the card. Do you see the vicious cycle in which you will soon find yourself? And that credit card company will be happy to do all it can to keep you in that predatory cycle.

What about mortgages? On the surface, I would say that mortgages are the only kind of debt I might consider classifying as "good". If course, this assumes that you have not taken out a mortgage for more than you can afford to realistically pay. Back in the days before and immediately after the depression banks often called in their mortgage loans and demanded payment in full immediately. That's what ruined many families. Today, however, there is legislation that prevents banks from doing that; they can't call in your mortgage before the term is up (typically 15 or 30 years). So everything's great, right? Not necessarily. What happens when you get behind on your mortgage? They will require you to "catch up" in one lump sum and won't even accept a partial payment. And the interest is still accruing along the way. If you get far enough behind they will start foreclosure proceedings and sell your house. I don't know that I would call any of these things predatory, though. I do know that leading customers into sub prime high-interest rate mortgages is predatory. There used to be a day and time when banks felt like it was alright to decline to write a mortgage for someone because they didn't have enough of a down payment or couldn't show their ability to repay the mortgage. Now it's almost like banks are afraid of hurting our feelings! They seem willing to write a mortgage for pretty much anyone as long as the interest rate is high enough. Unfortunately for them (and indirectly for the rest of us) banks are being bitten in the behind for these practices and the term "short sale" has become a common phrase in our vocabularies.

The bottom line? Get rid of all your debt as quickly as you possibly can, including your mortgage. It's all a noose around your neck just waiting to be tightened. No, mortgages aren't as bad as other credit options, but it's best to remember that if you lay down with snakes you shouldn't be surprised to way up bitten.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

One more "Super Savings Saturday" Item!

My hubby needed to go to Target tonight for some storage boxes so the kids and I tagged along. I was able to use 2 of the $1 off coupons for Johnson's Buddies and get the bar soap for better than free (they were $0.94 and the coupon came off in full so Target paid me $.06 each to take those off their hands). I also used 15 of the string cheese coupons and got another 30 packages for free. I was able to get the overage on the Johnson's Buddies because I rang up the groceries along with his boxes instead of doing the order separately. I'm not sure the computer would have allowed me the overage if I hadn't had something else to offset it. So tonight I MADE $0.12 at Target!

We just won't talk about how much his storage boxes cost. :)

Super Savings Saturday

Head on over to Money Saving Mom for lots more stories about the great deals people are getting this week. I haven't done much shopping this week and didn't take a picture of what I did get but I will go ahead and list it for you here.

I went to Super Target a few days ago because it's the only store in my area (besides CVS) that I KNOW takes internet coupons. It's with great sadness that I must report that my local Kroger stores won't accept them. So here's what I got at Target --

3 bags Flat Earth Chips -- $1.99 each -- total of $5.97
8 cartons Archer Farms Yogurt -- $0.52 each -- total of $4.16
1 box of Whole Grain Pop Tarts -- $1.67
2.76 pounds of bananas -- $0.52 per pound -- total of $1.44
2 gallons Market Pantry milk -- $3.49 each -- total of $6.98
8 individual string cheeses -- $0.24 each -- total of $1.92

Here are the coupons I used --

Manufacturer coupon for Flat Earth Chips (3 of them) -- $5.97
Target coupon for Pop Tarts -- $0.50
Manufacturer coupon for Pop Tarts -- $0.50
Target coupon for Bananas -- $0.50
Target coupon for string cheese (4 of them) -- $1.92

So I left Target spending a total of $12.75 out of pocket. My total before the coupons was $22.14. However, I don't really feel right saying that I was able to save 42% on my groceries at Target this week because I wouldn't have bought the chips or the Pop Tarts unless I had those coupons.

That's a dilemma I have every time I go to the grocery store and look at the receipt. At Kroger they will tell you "you saved $xx.xx using your Kroger Plus card" and I always want to point out to them, "No, I SPENT $yy.yy out of my grocery budget today." But I never do that because most of the cashiers would just look at me funny. I know that they are supposed to tell each customer that so I just let it go.

Stimulus Package Checks

What are you planning to do with the check that the government is sending you in a few months? You know -- the one where the government is going to borrow the money from tomorrow for us to spend today. I was talking to a friend the other day about this and she related to me an interesting story. It seems that another friend of ours is planning to use the money to buy a playground/swingset contraption for her backyard. Apparently, though, her husband wanted to save the money. She, however, told him that the government is sending us these checks to stimulate the economy and that we are supposed to SPEND them, not SAVE them. So she says she's giving her kids a backyard playground "courtesy of President Bush".

Look...I have no problem with them spending the money any way they want. That's their business as a family, not mine. But I have a few thoughts about this. First, the playground isn't "courtesy of President Bush". It's courtesy of all of us and our tax dollars. More accurately it's courtesy of the tax dollars of our children in the future since this money is being borrowed in order to send to all of us. Second, if this family (or any family for that matter) has any sort of consumer debt then this money should be used to pay it off or at least pay it down. That would be a lot better for an individual family than buying a playground for the kids. Third, saving the money in the bank should help to stimulate the economy because then the bank will have more money to lend to other people and will make more money off the interest. In the long run that will help the stock market and our overall economy. (Of course I'm against most forms of borrowing money with the exception of a mortgage but that's a discussion for another day.)

We are planning to use the money to start a small home business. I'll write more about it later in the week when the kids aren't clamoring for my attention. :) But we feel comfortable spending the money in this way because we have no debt except for our mortgage and have an emergency fund in the bank for a rainy day.

Along those lines, let me share with you Dave Ramsey's "baby steps". Maybe you could use these as a guide to help you decide what is best to do with this windfall of money.
  1. Set aside a $1000 emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt (except the mortgage) using the debt snowball.
  3. Set aside 3 to 6 months of expenses into an emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of household income into ROTH IRAs and pre-tax retirement.
  5. Set up college funding for your children.
  6. Pay off the mortgage early.
  7. Build wealth and give!
I'll write a post in a few days about how we are working on these steps ourselves. Hopefully it will inspire you to start as well. It's not easy, but remember (in the words of Dave Ramsey) -- DEBT IS DUMB, CASH IS KING, AND THE PAID OFF HOME MORTGAGE HAS TAKEN THE PLACE OF THE BMW AS THE STATUS SYMBOL OF CHOICE.